In a stereotypically and yet somehow widespread version of the past, the marketer was a whiskey-drinking romantic artist like Don Draper. A manipulative genius with an eye for fashion and an almost Freudian flair for the consumer's inner secret desires.
And in a stereotypical version of the future, the marketer has become an algorithm that predicts your needs by analyzing various fragments of your behaviour and delivering your goods to you exactly when you realize you need them.
Despite IoT fridges and Amazon's anticipatory shipping that, admittedly, looks pretty promising, there seems to be ground for a compromise: A tech-savvy and highly original marketer that allows epiphanies to go hand in hand with data-science.
But to find out what exactly we can expect from the marketing function in the future of work, we reached out to Peter Mahoney. Not only is he the CEO of the AI-driven marketing platform Plannuh. He has also authored an entire book entitled The Next CMO aboutthe project. We asked him what young marketers can prepare themselves for a future of work that is going to be smarter, more automated and data-driven - and what he does to ensure that he and his team stay sharp and on the front guard.
Here is what he told us.
Tell me just to begin with: What is the grand vision of Plannuh? What are you trying to achieve?
At a high level, we're trying to automate the financial and planning side of the marketing function, which is a very unautomated manual process today. Our goal is to make marketing teams more operationally excellent so that they can deliver better results, measure more effectively and put the money they're spending toward the most performant activities.
Besides being CEO in Plannuh, you have also written a book about the future of marketing. What was that project about?
Yeah. We wrote this book called The Next CMO: A Guide To Operational Marketing Excellence. It really codified our worldview around how marketing leaders should be running, managing and leading the function.
If you think about what marketing people struggle with, it's measurement in general, but more specifically, it's measurement broadly across the function. Marketing people tend to be really good at measuring the tiny little tactics like how many times a white paper was downloaded over the last month. But it's very difficult for people to really measure in aggregate the performance of their investments. What is the value of a content marketing strategy? What is the value of my PR program? Those are some of the practices that we try to help people understand how to measure more effectively. And then along the way, we're trying to drive best practices around the way that the marketing function is managed.
We advocate for a goal-based marketing approach, which isn't shocking or new; it's just people struggle with building their plans that way. So ideally, you start with your business goals. What are we trying to achieve? Then ultimately, you need to be able to measure the return on the investment of those activities.
So the next CMO is someone who is goal-driven and data-driven?
There are a few attributes about the future CMO. Certainly, they need to be goal-driven. They need to be focused on measurement, which means they need to be analytical, of course. But they also need to be fluent in finance and business.
Another key area that we've really advocated is taking more of a scientific approach. We think the next CMO is more of a scientist versus a promoter who is good at spinning messages. You need to act like a scientist: You need to start with the thesis. What is my set of assumptions? You need to set up some experiments. And then, you need to measure the results. You don't want to spin the results. You actually want to communicate the results as accurately as you possibly can because your goal is to interpret those results and decide what kind of change you might make. For instance, if you have a result that isn't really that good, but you're a real promoter, you might say: "Hey, this is really great." where in reality, it can be damaging to your business. At the end of the day, you need to make sure you have a really clear understanding of what was effective for your business to optimize it and get better results. So all those are key attributes into what we look at as the next CMO.
I think of AI as a digital chief of staff that can understand strategies and help you understand what you're trying to achieve as a business.
Plannuh is obviously an AI company. So what kind of role do you think AI will play in the future of work and more specifically, for future marketing function?
AI plays a role on multiple levels. Obviously, AI is almost going to be shorthand for software over time. It's the way that intelligence software systems are built. And if you think about it, there are a few different levels of value that AI can contribute. We operate on two primary planes when it comes to our AI.
The first is automating tasks. So the business problem we're trying to solve, and it's very similar to what Contractbook does, is to take a really messy, disorganized set of document-based processes that you need to figure out how to automate and make it intuitive, simple and efficient. That's the low level. Just making sure that business process works really effectively.
Then there's a very high level thing we do around recommendations. Looking at all this data, we now have: what am I trying to do? What are my goals? AI can help you look at the data and recommend you do more of that and less of that. Those are the kinds of things that take a much more intelligent system.
So if you think of AI's role in the future of work in general: it's augmenting an organization's capacity at multiple levels. At the low level, it's a bunch of people doing work, and the value is proportional to the amount of work there. So if there is a lot of work involved in a process, AI can then be very helpful because it can automate these manual processes. And then there is insight. I think of AI as a digital chief of staff that can understand strategies and help you understand what you're trying to achieve as a business.
So if you are talking to a young marketeer or someone considering going into marketing for the next many years, what kind of skills would you tell them to acquire?
That's interesting. Probably the most important thing is, you need to be a critical thinker. You need to be able to look at information and make smart judgments based on that information. You also need to be a really effective communicator. And that doesn't mean that you have to have a silver tongue. That means that you need to be able to clearly, concisely and accurately communicate complex information in a way that other people in an organization or outside the organization can understand.
We talked about a minute ago the idea of a scientist-approach versus a promoter. If you are managing a campaign, you need to be able to, in a professional, credible way, communicate what's going on with that campaign - even if it's not good. That's the hardest part. A lot of marketers think that they are only successful if everything they do is successful. And the reality is that not everything is successful. So it's very important for you to be able to clearly communicate the outcomes in a way that the business can use to adapt and learn.
You sometimes meet this stereotypical vision of the future where AI will have automated all our mundane, manual talk and humans have been augmented in a way that we can just sit around on clouds, being creative and coming up with cool ideas that are magically executed from the machines. How far are we from that?
It's probably an idealized view of the future. But certainly, the idea of automating tasks is something that is very likely to happen. And what you will probably see those tasks being automated in a way that is in line with their business value.
Now, if you look at how AI is used to solve problems, there is a fair amount of work and data required to get these automations to work. And what you see in this current round of business applications is a set of applications being developed based on common voluminous kinds of business processes. Whether it's managing contracts or managing financial information related to marketing - it's something every business does, and they do a lot. These are the first round of processes to be automated. But there is a lot of stuff around the edges that is very episodic. I think there will still be some manual tasks in most companies for a long time before AI systems become more flexible and less generic in how they solve problems, so they can solve a broader set of capabilities over time as the systems get smarter.
Look at the very early versions of the voice assistant in the market, Siri or Alexa. The first versions of these applications could do a very, very limited set of things. They had a deep understanding of a very narrow set of capabilities, so they are good at finding me a restaurant or these very common tasks. Then over time, as the AI became more generalized, these systems get smarter and smarter and smarter, but they still fail a lot. They're still annoying to a lot of people because even as they've broadened out, you realize that human knowledge is incredibly broad and flexible, which means we're still at half of a per cent of being able to automate, you know, broad human tasks. So we have a very, very long way to go over the next several decades. That's all to say that there are still going to be a significant number of boring tasks that people will have to do. And there's not going to be a lot of sitting on clouds and thinking deep thoughts.
So what is the main driving force behind the future of work in the marketing function?
There are a few things that are driving it. First of all, there's that relentless focus on growth. The only way you can grow in a way that will be reasonably cost-effective is to find lots of areas for efficiency.
I think speed is a key attribute of automation that people almost don't think about. With automation, it's going to cost less. It's going to be easier. But the reality is that the speed of business can be accelerated. If you want to be competitive and want your fair share of business, you need to be faster than everyone else. You need to give your customers a great experience. That typically involves having a level of automation in your business. Suppose you think about the brands that you like to do business with. In that case, they tend to have a highly personalized automated kind of experience in everything they do, from the customer-facing elements to the back office. Everything has to be smart, effective, not wasting people's time. Those companies tend to be the ones who are the most automated, the fastest and the most efficient. As a result, all those factors will drive growth, and you're going to see these companies being more and more successful. And as they grow, of course, they need more automation because they need to figure out how they can handle all that extra work they're going to get from acquiring lots and lots of new customers. So I think it's just the only way to deal with the growth expectations we all have is to focus on automation. This is one of the key areas that is going to differentiate companies.
"If you want to be competitive and want your fair share of business, you need to be faster than everyone else. You need to give your customers a great experience. That typically involves having a level of automation in your business."
So what do you do to ensure that you have a future-proof business that constantly remains a part of the vanguard?
There are a lot of things we are doing to future-proof. The first thing to do is constantly look at your business processes, and as a relatively early-stage company, it's essential to do that. Most processes we have today aren't going to scale to two orders of magnitude in the future, so you have to think about how do I continue to adapt. One way to do that is to make sure that you have a very nimble business process and that you're always looking for areas where you can drive efficiency and flexibility in your business.
It's the idea of continually looking at each of your individual business processes and understanding where the things get stuck—and then testing those and finding out how would I be ten times faster. Or how I could be a hundred times faster. Just doing that constantly is really important because there's almost no way you can design a system and a business process that's going to last from zero to a billion dollars in revenue, as an example. You need this ethic of being always testing, measuring, finding out where the choke points are and continuing to evolve those over time.
As Peter Mahoney rightly says, Contractbook is an automation company. We help small and medium-sized businesses achieve growth and scale their business by enabling more data-driven decision making and a faster workflow through automation. Read more here.